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MA Driancourt, K Reynaud, and J Smitz

After in vitro maturation, fertilization and development, the percentage of fertilized eggs developing to the blastocyst stage is usually lower in calves compared with cows. It is unknown whether this low ability to develop in vitro is inherent to calf oocytes or is caused by altered follicular maturation. The latter possibility was explored in the present study using two markers of follicle function: in vitro steroidogenesis by intact follicles and aromatase activity of follicular walls. Calf follicles > 9 mm in diameter had a low ability to produce oestradiol (ten times reduction compared with cows) despite a testosterone output by theca cells which was similar to that observed in cows. This finding is in agreement with the low aromatase activity of granulosa cells of calf follicles measured by tritiated water release assay. Qualitative and quantitative differences between calf and cow follicular fluids were assessed using western blotting (inhibin and activin, heat shock protein 90, Mullerian inhibiting substance) and assays (inhibin and activin) to determine whether this defective aromatase could be produced by alterations in the amounts of follicular proteins modulating aromatase (inhibin and activin, heat shock protein 90, Mullerian inhibiting substance). Western blotting of follicular fluid proteins demonstrated three main bands (59, 57 and < 30 kDa) and one minor band (34 kDa) with the anti-alpha inhibin antibody, whereas a single 18 kDa band was detected when an anti-beta inhibin antibody was used. Calf follicular fluid contained similar amounts of all main inhibin forms (alpha and beta) but a 34 kDa alpha inhibin form was missing. The amounts of dimeric inhibin were similar between cows and calves but small follicles from calves contained more activin. Single bands at 70 kDa (Mullerian inhibiting substance) and 90 kDa (heat shock protein 90) were detected by western blotting. Mullerian inhibiting substance was missing from calf follicular fluid and heat shock protein 90 was present in smaller amounts in calf versus cow follicular fluid. None of the above differences could explain the defective aromatase of calf follicles. Two-dimensional separation of the [35S]-labelled proteins secreted by follicular walls originating from calf or cow follicles matched for size and follicle health was performed and 151 spots were observed on the master gel, which summarized all the spots present at least once. Fifteen spots were present in calves and not in cows. Quantitative differences were also detected with three spots containing more proteins in cows than in calves. Whether some of these proteins can alter maturation of follicles or oocytes requires further investigation.

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MA Driancourt, J Fevre, J Martal, and KH Al-Gubory

Ovarian follicular growth and maturation and its control throughout pregnancy have not been described fully in sheep. Experiment 1 characterized the size and maturation (steroid production in vitro and aromatase activity) of ovarian follicles obtained at days 20, 50, 80 and 110 of pregnancy compared with those obtained at day 12 of the oestrous cycle. There was no difference in the number of small follicles (< 3 mm in diameter) between cyclic and pregnant ewes, regardless of the stage of pregnancy. There was a marked reduction (P < 0.01) in the number of medium follicles (3-5 mm) starting at day 80 of pregnancy. Large follicles (> 5 mm) were not detected at day 110 of pregnancy. In vitro testosterone output by follicles was constant throughout pregnancy. Oestradiol output remained steady until day 80, but decreased markedly at day 110 of pregnancy. This decrease was associated with a reduction in aromatase activity in follicles obtained at this stage. Experiment 2 examined the effect of administration of high concentrations of progesterone between day 100 and day 120 after mating on resumption of follicular growth in ewes that underwent Caesarean section at day 99 of pregnancy. In ewes that underwent Caesarean section, progesterone supplementation was successful in mimicking the profile found in pregnant ewes, but did not prevent re-initiation of follicular growth, as demonstrated by the presence of large follicles (> 5 mm) at day 120 after mating. Experiment 3 examined the effects of PGF(2alpha)-induced regression of the corpus luteum of day 100 of pregnancy on resumption of follicular growth. High concentrations of PGF(2alpha) (0.28 mg kg(-1) body weight) administrated at day 100 of pregnancy were required to initiate regression of the corpus luteum. At day 120 after mating, the mean (+/- SEM) diameter of the largest follicle in PGF(2alpha)-treated ewes (3.40 +/- 0.47 mm) was significantly greater (P < 0.05) than that in control pregnant ewes (2.52 +/- 0.34 mm). Experiment 4 examined the effect of removal of the fetus and of the corpus luteum at day 100 of pregnancy on resumption of ovulation. Removal of the corpus luteum by PGF(2alpha) treatment at the time of removal of the fetus resulted in earlier occurrence of short luteal phases (27.8 versus 40.6 days, PGF(2alpha)-treated versus non-treated) but did not alter the timing of the first normal luteal phases (41 days). In conclusion, the results from these experiments indicate that placental compounds play a major role in inhibiting follicular growth and maturation during late pregnancy in sheep.

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MA Driancourt, K Reynaud, R Cortvrindt, and J Smitz

Evidence from mouse mutants indicates that the Kit gene encoding KIT, a receptor present on the oocyte and theca cells, and the Mgf gene encoding KIT LIGAND, the ligand of KIT, are important regulators of oogenesis and folliculogenesis. Recently, in vitro cultures of fetal gonads, of follicles and of oocytes have identified specific targets for the KIT-KIT LIGAND interaction. In fetal gonads, an anti-apoptotic effect of KIT-KIT LIGAND interactions on primordial germ cells, oogonia and oocytes has been demonstrated. In postnatal ovaries, the initiation of follicular growth from the primordial pool and progression beyond the primary follicle stage appear to involve KIT-KIT LIGAND interactions. During early folliculogenesis, KIT together with KIT LIGAND controls oocyte growth and theca cell differentiation, and protects preantral follicles from apoptosis. Formation of an antral cavity requires a functional KIT-KIT LIGAND system. In large antral follicles, the KIT-KIT LIGAND interaction modulates the ability of the oocyte to undergo cytoplasmic maturation and helps to maximize thecal androgen output. Hence, many steps of oogenesis and folliculogenesis appear to be, at least in part, controlled by paracrine interactions between these two proteins.

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K Reynaud, R Cortvrindt, J Smitz, F Bernex, JJ Panthier, and MA Driancourt

The KIT receptor, present on oocyte and theca cells in ovarian follicles, and its ligand, KIT LIGAND, produced by granulosa cells, are encoded at the Kit gene and the Mgf gene, respectively. Both Kit and Mgf mutations affect oogenesis and folliculogenesis. In this study, the ovarian function of heterozygous mice with a mutation Kit(W-lacZ) was examined. Firstly, the amounts of KIT and KIT LIGAND proteins in the ovaries of mice at different ages were determined. Secondly, in vivo and in vitro folliculogenesis of wild type and heterozygous mice were compared. Western blotting showed that the amounts of both KIT and KIT LIGAND proteins were decreased in mutant mice. Ovarian follicle populations were counted and more type 5a follicles and fewer type 5b (preantral follicles) were present in ovaries from Kit(W-lacZ/+) ovaries. Furthermore, the relationships between oocyte size and follicle size differed between wild type and heterozygous mice. This finding may be a consequence of altered proliferation of granulosa cells or of altered oocyte growth in mutant mice. Other features of folliculogenesis, such as initiation of follicular growth, total follicle population and follicular atresia, were not affected by the mutation. Analysis of in vitro folliculogenesis did not reveal other differences between wild type and mutant mice. It is concluded that the Kit(W-lacZ) mutation affects the expression of KIT and KIT LIGAND proteins, resulting in alterations in granulosa cell proliferation and/or oocyte growth in preantral follicles.

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K. H. Al-Gubory, M-A. Driancourt, M. Antoine, J. Martal, and N. Neimer

Porcine and ovine follicular tissues were used to investigate, in vitro, the effect of charcoal-treated aqueous extract from ovine corpora lutea of pregnancy on aromatase activity as determined by the conversion of [3H]testosterone to oestradiol by follicular walls and measurement of 3H2O release. Extract (500 μg protein) prepared from corpora lutea of day 112 of pregnancy but not extract (500 μg) prepared from ovine fetal cotyledonary tissue obtained at a similar time significantly decreased (P < 0.02) aromatase activity of pig follicles in the absence of FSH. These results demonstrate that a non-steroidal factor in the corpora lutea of late pregnancy directly inhibits aromatase activity. When the effects of different doses (300, 600 or 1200 μg) of luteal extract from corpora lutea of day 100 of pregnancy on aromatase activity of pig follicles were studied, the dose by treatment (presence or absence of FSH) interaction was not significant. Luteal extract dose at 300 μg did not affect aromatase activity but a significant decrease in activity occurred at 600 μg of luteal extract (600 versus 300 μg, P < 0.02). There was no further significant increase in the inhibitory effect with 1200 μg luteal extract. When the effects of 600 μg luteal extract from corpora lutea of days 15, 75 or 100 of pregnancy on aromatase activity of pig follicles were studied, a significant (P < 0.05) stage of pregnancy effect was detected, but the stage of pregnancy by treatment (presence or absence of FSH) interaction was not significant. No effect was noted with day 15 or day 75 luteal extract. In contrast, aromatase activity in the presence of day 100 luteal extract was significantly reduced compared with that of control (P < 0.01) and day 15 luteal extract (P < 0.05). A significant (P < 0.05) stage of pregnancy effect was also observed on aromatase activity of sheep follicles. Aromatase activity of sheep follicles was significantly reduced in the presence of day 100 luteal extract compared with that of control (P < 0.05) and day 15 luteal extract (P < 0.02). These data suggest that the stimulus triggering the synthesis of the aromatase inhibitor appears after mid-pregnancy. The aromatase-inhibiting activity was lost from luteal extract of corpora lutea of day 100 of pregnancy after treatment with proteolytic enzymes, demonstrating the proteic nature of the aromatase inhibitor. These experiments provide evidence for the existence in ovine corpora lutea of late pregnancy of a non-steroidal factor that reduces follicular aromatase activity. We propose the term aromatase-inhibiting factor or AIF to describe this activity.